Bodie State Historical Park – A Gold Mining Ghost Town

Bodie State Historical Park in the high altitude Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains in California is a fascinating glimpse into the past. Bodie is a gold mining ghost town that as been preserved in a state of “arrested decay” (basically frozen in time) with the interiors of the homes pretty much remaining as they were left with furniture and stores with old goods still on the shelves.

Bodie State Historical Park California Ghost Town
Bodie State Historical Park

William S. Bodey found gold there in 1859 so he decided to stay the winter and establish his claim. This was a bad choice as this area is at high altitude (above 8,000 feet) and the winters there are very harsh. Bodey sadly died there (froze to death!), but the word got around and by 1861 a mill was established there to process rocks to find precious metals. Although spelt differently the town was named after Bodey.

high sierra nevada mountain desert Bodie california
8,000 feet and climbing

By 1877 the Standard Company had the rights to the main mine and by 1880 the town had a population of 10,000 people and 65 saloons to entertain them (amongst other sordid pastimes)! The gold rush was on and people wanted to get rich quick! It became a lawless, rough and tough mining town where murders were apparently a very common occurrence.

Bodie Ghost Town
The ghost town
House Bodie Historical State Park
Wooden homes, rusted cars
Main Street Bodie California Ghost Town
Main Street Bodie
Bodie old truck California
Bodie frozen in time
Old car Bodie State Historical Park California Ghost Town
The remains of days gone by

Yet normal life went on. There were stores, hotels, schools, churches and so on. Now these buildings provide a snapshot of the last days of Bodie.

Bodie Schoolhouse Ghost Town California
Old Schoolhouse
Bodie Schoolhouse Classroom Ghost Town
The old classroom remains dusty and quiet
Bodie State Historical Park General Store Ghost Town California
Bodie General Store
Old Bodie General Store
The General Store had all sorts of things still in it
Bodie general store stocked shelves
The shelves remain well stocked
General Store Bodie State Historical Park California
It looks like the old General Store could reopen any day!
Cans Tins Bodie General Store
Any familiar brands?
Bodie Church Ghost Town
A church remains
Bodie Hotel Bodie State Historical Park
Bodie Hotel
Ghost town dining room Bodie Hotel
The dining table awaits in the Bodie Hotel
Bodie Hotel main bar Bodie State Historical Park CA
Bodie Hotel main bar
Bodie Hotel Ghost Town California
Need a room?
Bodie State Historical Park California
Old hotels and stores
Bar Bodie Hotel California Ghost Town
Roulette wheel old Bodie casino ghost town
Old casino
Old fire hydrant Bodie State Historical Park
Not sure this fire hydrant was of much use?

What is fascinating about this place is that it is in the middle of nowhere high up in the mountains of the Mono Basin desert. The current road from the highway is 13 miles long (the last 3 are unpaved), but back in the day there was no road or railway to the town so everything was brought in by mules and wagons (this included all the wood as there are no trees out there and the heavy mining equipment). Later there was a railway line purely for the shipping of wood to run steam engines that were used in the processing of precious metals but otherwise there was no other real viable option than by the mules.

Bodie State Historical Park Sierra Nevada Mountains California

This remoteness of Bodie is why so much of the mining equipment and personal possessions of the people who lived there remains today. It was simply too expensive to ship it out of there when the gold and silver eventually ran out ($32 million in gold and around $7 million in silver was mined there!).

house Bodie State Historical Park California
Looking inside the windows of the old homes provides a fascinating snapshot in time
Old house dining room Bodie Ghost Town CA
No dinner tonight
ghost town inside house Bodie CA
Nobody home
Old kitchen House in Bodie State Historical Park
Old kitchen
Old chest Bodie Ghost Town
Another house where they seem to have left in a hurry
Bodie State Historical Park California
Living area of one of the old houses

The boom time for Bodie was not long. After 1881 the mining slowed and people along with businesses started to leave the town. A big fire destroyed a lot of the town in 1892 (mostly wooden buildings) which could have been the demise of the town completely, but new mining processes (including the use of cyanide – yes really safe practices back then) and the introduction of one of the first electricity plants in the country kept things going for a little longer. In 1932 another massive fire destroyed around 95% of the town and that was pretty much it for Bodie.

Some of the old homes remain in good condition and some are used by the Park Rangers
Some of the old homes remain in good condition and some are used by the Park Rangers
old bottles Bodie
Taking a peek back in time
Babys Cot Crib Bodie Ghost Town
This looks like it may have been one of the last homes in regular use in Bodie
Inside a house Bodie State Historical Park
You are able to enter some of the old buildings
House Kitchen Bodie Ghost Town California
This kitchen looks like it is still ready to go

Around 100 buildings survive today including the main mill (some of the buildings are now occupied by Park Rangers). James Cain the banker of the town had a lot of money invested in Bodie and hired an armed guard to protect the remaining buildings and contents. He basically kept the place safe until it was handed over to the State (some people remained living there up until this time too).

Bodie Ghost Town
Bodie Ghost Town
Bodie State Historical Park
So much, yet so little remains from the town that was
Bodie Bank CA
The remains of the Bodie Bank
Safe in bank bodie state historical park California
The old safe in James Cain’s bank

Bodie became a National Historic Site and a State Historic Park in 1962. I am so glad I took the time to visit this ghost town and was surprised how many other people were there when it opened at 9am.

Bodie California
Remote and fascinating
outhouse bodie california ghost town
It was a hard life in hard conditions in Bodie
Old cars and wagon Bodie
The people of Bodie virtually left everything behind

If you are ever out that way in California please make sure you take a visit. It is really fascinating, and take the free Stamp Mill tour to learn about the old mining process in the mill which is otherwise out-of-bounds (health and safety was not a priority in the 1800’s and let’s just say a mill workers life was not a long one!).

Stamp Mill Bodie
The old stamp mill is one of the most impressive structures to remain in Bodie
stamp mill Bodie ghost town
The road leading to the old stamp mill
Bodie State Historical Park Mill
Bodie’s old mining mill
Bodie Mill CA Ghost town
The mill tour is well worth taking
Bodie mill water tank
Water had to be bought into Bodie to be used by the town and the mill
Bodie State Historical Park Mill stamping machine
Mill stamping machine

I spent about 3 hours exploring Bodie and could easily have spent more if I didn’t have to get back to Reno, Nevada. It is a fascinating place to visit not only for the buildings and remains of residents past but also just for the remote location and scenery. Alas I saw no ghosts, but staying there at night might just be a different story…

17 Comments Add yours

    1. Deano says:

      Really cool place!

  1. I was able to visit Bodie in the mid-1990s and found it just as fascinating as you did. It really does appear as though one day everybody just decided to up and leave. The arid conditions have help preserve many of the structures and their contents, which is why the town offers a peek into the past. And your right about the remoteness. Those last three miles were pretty hard on the car, but it was worth it.

    1. Deano says:

      Yes you kind of feel like you need a bigger vehicle but the road, although gravel is pretty good these days. Peering in those windows was a really fascinating experience.

  2. elisaruland says:

    This truly is fascinating, I would love to see this in person someday.

    1. Deano says:

      It is one of those places where you can take so many photos (and I did). Well worth a visit if you are ever in the area. Surprisingly it is quite close to major tourist areas, but just enough off the beaten path to give it that really remote feeling.

  3. sethsnap says:

    Very interesting and beautifully shot. Did you see any ghosts?

    1. Deano says:

      Thanks. No ghosts, but it must be interesting for the Rangers who live there, especially at night!

    1. Deano says:

      Add to it your list if you are ever in Eastern California!

  4. What an interesting post! Beautiful. I love old mining ghost towns. Last year I got to spend 10 days making the Las Vegas-Reno loop. I fell in love with the west. Your shots are fantastic, Deano. I can’t believe so many of the personal possessions are still there. Amazing. So no ghosts?! T.

    1. Deano says:

      It really is a fascinating experience wandering around those old houses etc. No ghosts but I am sure the Rangers have lots of ghost stories when the sun goes down…….

  5. strawberryquicksand says:

    I wish I had known about this place a few years ago. My friend and I were on holiday in the USA from Australia and we were hoping to visit a real ghost town. We ended up going to a place that was so commercialised! We actually didn’t pay the entry fee to go in as it was not really what we were after. Thank you for sharing about this amazing place! I love the photos.

    1. Deano says:

      Thanks for taking a look at my blog. Yeah its a pretty amazing place….something for next time perhaps? 🙂

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